What Is the Structure of Human Populations?

  • Bruce S. Weir
Part of the Evolutionary Biology book series (EBIO, volume 32)


The study of evolution is limited by its essentially stochastic nature. Even if we understand all the forces affecting the transmission of genes from one generation to the next, we cannot predict the future genetic constitution of a population and we cannot reconstruct all aspects of the past. The phrase “cannot predict” is to be taken in the same sense as when we decline to predict whether a toss of a fair coin will result in a head or a tail. We may be content to assign a probability of one half to each outcome, but the inherent uncertainty in the tossing process is widely acknowledged and even serves as the basis for deciding elections in the case of equal numbers of votes for each of two candidates. The possibility of studying the physics of coin tossing to such a degree that the outcome can be predicted with certainty is rejected, and biological processes such as meiosis are very much more complicated. Our theories of evolution are designed to apply on the average or to give probabilities to sets of outcomes. Our data, however, are from specific outcomes. Our understanding of evolution must proceed from the single replicate of the process. We can no more construct a complete theory of a stochastic process from specific data than we can predict a specific outcome with certainty from our theory.


Marker Allele Recombination Fraction Fair Coin Evolutionary Equilibrium Population Genetic Theory 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Balding, D. J., and Nichols, R. A., 1994, DNA profile match probability calculation: How to allow for population stratification, relatedness, database selection and single bands, Forens. Sci. Int. 64:125–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Cavalli-Sforza, L. L., Menozzi, P., and Piazza, A., 1994, The History and Geography of Human Genes, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.Google Scholar
  3. Cockerham, C. C., 1973, Analyses of gene frequencies, Genetics 74:679–700.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Evett, I. W., and Weir, B. S., 1998, Interpreting DNA Evidence, Sinauer, Sunderland, Massachusetts.Google Scholar
  5. Hill, W. G., and Weir, B. S., 1994, Maximum-likelihood estimation of gene location by linkage disequilibrium, Am. J. Hum. Genet. 54:705–714.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Kaplan, N. L., Hill, W. C., and Weir, B. S., 1995, Likelihood methods for locating disease genes in nonequilibrium populations, Am. J. Hum. Genet. 56:18–32.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Ott, J., 1991, Analysis of Human Genetic Linkage, 2nd ed., Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore.Google Scholar
  8. Weir, B. S., 1996, Genetic Data Analysis II, Sinauer, Sunderland, Massachusetts.Google Scholar
  9. Weir, B. S., and Hill, W. C., 1986, Nonuniform recombination within the human β-globin gene cluster, Am. J. Hum. Genet. 38:776–778.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Wright, S., 1951, The genetical structure of populations, Ann. Eugen. 15:323–354.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bruce S. Weir
    • 1
  1. 1.Program in Statistical Genetics, Department of StatisticsNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

Personalised recommendations